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Veterans Affairs launches data-sharing initiative with community hospitals to inform vets of health benefits

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | October 10, 2023
Health IT PACS / Enterprise Imaging
The VA has started a data-sharing initiative with community hospitals to help identify and inform veterans of care options covered by the VA.
Crediting advancements in EHR technology, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has signed a data-sharing pledge with 13 community hospitals across the U.S. that will allow them to identify patients who are veterans and inform them of VA benefits and resources that can improve and possibly reduce their out-of-pocket care costs.

Among the the providers are Emory Healthcare, Inova, Jefferson Health, Sanford Health, UC Davis Health, Intermountain Health, Mass General Brigham, Rush Health, Tufts Medical Center, Marshfield Clinic, Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospitals, UPMC, and Atrium Health.

Currently, patients must inform non-VA medical facilities if they are veterans, with those not at risk of missing out on VA-covered healthcare and benefits. By sharing data with these and other providers in the future, the VA says it can exchange data on care requested and provided, improving coordination of care for shared patients regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in its benefits program.

“This pledge will improve Veteran health care by giving us seamless, immediate access to a patient’s medical history, which will help us make timely and accurate treatment decisions,” said VA undersecretary for health Dr. Shereef Elnahal in a statement.

The VA especially hopes that that the initiative will help veterans diagnosed with toxic-exposure conditions covered under the PACT Act, which expands coverage for 23 presumptive conditions not previously covered for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during their service, and those experiencing an acute suicidal crisis, which can be treated for free at any VA or non-VA facility under the Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care and Treatment (COMPACT) Act, reported Federal News Network.

It also can inform veterans of other VA programs, including ones for food and house insecurity, and provide the VA with better data on the quality of healthcare that veterans generally receive, and whether or not it comes from VA medical facilities. The department coordinated with chief information officers and chief medical information officers at participating healthcare networks to understand the requirements for data sharing, and told the Federal News Network that EHR technology is at the point where this “next level of innovation can really happen."

It sees the pledge as the first step toward developing a “proof of concept” by early 2024, which could allow it to share additional technologies, including AI with community healthcare facilities.

“If this could be a vehicle or a mechanism to get that type of technology embedded in a community provider, to essentially ensure that the veteran's receiving the same treatment, regardless of where he or she is, I think that’s absolutely one of the goals that we’re working toward,” a VA official told the Federal News Network.

The VA will safeguard the privacy and security of veteran information.

The pledge for those who have signed it will take effect this month. Other healthcare systems and providers are encouraged to participate.

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